The Right Foundation: A Roadmap to Preventing Workplace Violence

Deb Kirby

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Dec 8, 2022

Many of our new corporate clients who engage our threat and violence risk management (TVRM) services don’t realize that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Act of 1970 General Duty Clause requiring employers to maintain “a place of employment…free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm” is directly related to their responsibility to engage in a systematic approach to workplace violence prevention.

Once we have the discussion on how this applies, often their next question is, “Ok, how we do that?” The following are seven steps our TVRM team refers to collectively as a “roadmap” to preventing violence in the workplace – a systemic approach to ensuring the safety and security of your people, assets and reputation.

Step 1. Conduct a Needs Assessment

Planning is first. A successful workplace violence prevention (WVP) program requires a baseline understanding of your organization’s internal environment, including current strengths, capabilities, and resources supporting the development or enhancement of a comprehensive workplace violence prevention program. This “needs assessment” should examine existing policies in critical areas, such as onboarding, employment screening, privacy, compliance, and issue resolution and escalation. It helps identify gaps and opportunities for improvements and guides execution, specifically with respect to essential functions and departments such as Security, HR, Operations, Legal, Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and line management.

Step 2. Survey Your Workforce

A second key planning step is to assess your employees’ concerns and reservations about WVP-related issues, such as workplace security, the impact of domestic violence on the workplace, active assailant risk, and reporting red flags or behaviors of concern exhibited by colleagues. Other issues are important as well, such as perceptions about privacy, monitoring, and the handling of concerns and complaints. We use an anonymous survey to improve the sharing of information and develop awareness across the realm of workplace concerns. The survey findings will help shape your safety goals and inform policy development, employee training, internal awareness and selection of suitable external partners (e.g., mental wellness).

Step 3. Conduct a Physical and Technical Security Assessment

Next, you will need a full understanding of the physical security of your workforce environment. Safety comes from physical and technical security. Review physical security measures, including perimeter, gate and parking configuration, landscaping, outdoor lighting, locks and keys, and physical security policies. Also needed is a review of technical security, including access control, visitor management, intrusion detection and video surveillance, panic alarms, and emergency alert notification. Increasingly, cyber policies and practices that limit the vulnerability of systems contribute to safety and reduce risk.

Step 4. Develop Policies and a Formal Workplace Violence Prevention Program

At this point in the process, your team will draw on findings derived from Steps 1 through 3 to create the core elements that will form your prevention program. This program needs to provide clear, actionable guidance on core operational policies, practices, compliance, privacy, reporting, incident tracking and liaison with local first responders. These policies are the foundation for a culture of safety and should define expectations, organizational goals and vision to ensure safety and reduce risk of harm.

Step 5. Create and Train a Threat Assessment Team (TAT)

The core of your emerging program strategy and plan should be establishing a cross-functional, multidisciplinary threat management team. Many large employers build in-house threat assessment teams composed a diverse group of experts, including personnel from security, HR and legal. Others outsource threat assessment to experts like our team. Additional TAT stakeholders and ad-hoc members include specialists and situational advisors in mental health, law enforcement, forensic psychology, and behavioral threat assessment and management. Your TAT build should include establishing activation protocols for assessing, managing, and documenting threat cases related to reported concerns and incidents, consistent with Step 4.

Step 6. Deploy Training and Build Awareness

The “eyes and ears” of your prevention-oriented WVP program are your employees and should include any vendors, third-party personnel, or advisors present at any frequency in your workplace. You need to educate and inform these stakeholders across every level of the organization. The best way to bolster your workplace violence prevention program is through ongoing, in-person training, or interactive e-learning that builds awareness and inspires action and accountability across your entire organization. We strongly emphasize designing a customized training curriculum tailored specifically to three audience groups: (1) managers and supervisors, (2) all employees and (3) TAT members.

Step 7: Establish a Capacity to Quickly Engage Advanced Support

Even if you build an in-house threat assessment team, there are likely going to be times when you need to call upon advanced expertise from specialists – particularly forensic psychologists. These experts provide unique services. One type of service is a Direct Violence Risk Assessment for individuals who have violated workplace violence prevention policies, exhibited concerning or aggressive behavior, or raised concerns reported by supervisors or others. Another service is an Indirect Threat Assessment, which is similar to the first service but is undertaken without a direct interview with the subject.

Forensic psychologists also conduct Fitness-for-Duty Evaluations to assess a given employee’s ability to perform essential job requirements. This is often prompted by some action or behavior at work that brings the employee’s performance into question. All three services provide your team with insight into making key decisions about workplace safety.

Prevention is Key

These seven basic steps are integral to developing any workplace violence program, across industries, sectors, geographies and many organizational characteristics. Prevention is about focus and quickly identifying, assessing and intervening when reported actions of an individual or group signal a potential for violence.

Jensen Hughes can assist you with establishing a workplace violence prevention program that can help save lives, reduce liability, minimize operational disruptions and enhance employee well-being across all your offices and operations.

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About the author

Debra K. Kirby
Debra brings command experience in patrol operations, investigations, organized crime, law enforcement training, policy development, data-led policing and internal affairs with an acute focus on integrity systems, covert operations and the need for strong accountability practices in support of operational priorities.